Two monuments to protect

Few notice it when they pass the Bell's Road-Wallajah Road junction, but it's a pillar that has stood there for 85 years and perhaps more. But will it stand there much longer? Heritage buffs and conservationists have been doing their best to persuade the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association and its architects to save this ornamental pillar and a couple of others like it when they pull down the old wall of the Chepauk grounds and build a new one.

Look closely at this pillar and it's as Indo-Saracenic as you can get. Its dome certainly has echoes of Islamic architecture as found in Senate House and its sides have sculpted images out of the Hindu School, images that are, I'm told, avatars of Lord Vishnu. It's the Classical element that is missing in it, but there is a richness to its reflection of heritage, if only the passer-by is willing to stop and stare. Instead, he regularly urinates against it!

The story of the pillar goes back to 1919, when the Madras Cricket Club's Chepauk ground (now the TNCA's) was an open, tree-shaded maidan. At a Committee meeting on March 18, 1919, the Club decided its lease agreement needed to be regularised and the boundaries of its ground demarcated — and protected — with a wall all around it. Matters dragged on till March 1922 when it was resolved at the Annual General Meeting of the Club “that a boundary wall and railing … be erected around the grounds as per plans already prepared and that the net proceeds of the Presidency Cricket matches and Tennis and Hockey tournaments be allocated each year to the wall account until liquidated.” The work still dragged on after that and it was 1926 before it was completed. Noteworthy in the exposed brick construction were the ornamental pillars. Will those that survive be allowed to remain as memorials to Chepauk history?

The other memorial that might be under threat, this time from Chennai Metro (or is it from the owners of the property itself?) is the Trevelyan Fountain in the grounds of the Victoria Public Hall. The memorial fountain was raised to mark the contribution Charles Trevelyan, Governor of Madras, 1859-1860, made towards providing the City with adequate drinking water. On one side of the fountain is a bas relief of Trevelyan's handsome head.

It was in 1993, when Suresh Krishna was Sheriff of Madras and an ex-officio Trustee of the Victoria Public Hall, that he had the fountain and its surrounding embellishments restored in what he had hoped would be the first step towards restoring what was also known as the Town Hall. It's taken nearly 20 years for the restoration of the Hall to get underway, but it's sad to hear that what was the first step towards that restoration may now be threatened.

I often wonder these days why all this bad news keeps reaching me first instead of the CMDA's Heritage Conservation Committee.


In search of a nursing home

Balaji Kartha is in search of the nursing home where he was born in 1958 in order to look through its records and establish his time of birth. Unfortunately Dr. A. Lakshmanaswami Mudaliar's Kensington Nursing Home is no longer functioning, as far as I can ascertain, but the property is still there, now a residence. The Kensington property is next to the Rama Rau Nursing Home, founded as an X-ray clinic by Dr. P. Rama Rau and diagonally across from the Nehru Park.

After Dr. Lakshmanaswami Mudaliar's time, when it was run as an Obstetrics and Gynaecology hospital, it was run by his son, Dr. Arcot Venugopal, as a general surgical nursing home. Dr. Venugopal, who was Honorary Professor of Surgery at Madras Medical College and Honorary Surgeon at the Government General Hospital, was a pioneer in surgical urology in Madras. He was the Head of the Department of Urology when it was started at MMC in 1976.

In 1975, Vice-Chancellor Malcolm Adiseshiah of the University of Madras asked Dr. Venugopal to draw up plans to implement a dream Dr. Lakshmanaswami Mudaliar had nearly two decades earlier of establishing a medical research wing in the University. On April 1, 1976, the University's Postgraduate Institute of Basic Medical Sciences opened its doors in Taramani. Dr. A. Venugopal was its first Director. He was also Chairman of the Committee which drafted the proposals for what became the Tamil Nadu Dr. M.G.R. Medical University.

Dr. A. Raman, a regular contributor to this column from Australia, has been researching the medical history of Madras for some time now. And it was to him I turned for information about Dr. Lakshmanaswami's nursing home. In his response Raman has provided me several bits of information for other days. But one tidbit was that there was a Miss Broughton who was matron of the nursing home from Dr. Lakshmanaswami's time and continued well into Dr. Venugopal's time. Raman recalls that the formidable Miss Broughton, who migrated to Australia in the 1970s, would not hesitate to prescribe for patients who needed only a medicine or two. He knew because he helped his father who ran Kelly's Pharmacy.

All this, of course, does not get Kartha his time of birth, but it might please him to know that the place where he was born is not one of those places in Madras that has been pulled down, even though it is unrecognisable today for what it was.


A tale of two Bishops

As promised in these columns in Miscellany, August 15, I'm getting back to all the mail I received about Bishop Reginald Heber (Miscellany August 1) whose name is still remembered in several parts of the erstwhile Madras Presidency and in Ceylon. It is from Sri Lanka that P. Manickavasagam writes that Heber's reference to “man alone is vile” certainly did not go down well with Gandhiji who felt the two lines in Heber's ‘Greenland's icy mountains' was “a clear libel on Indian humanity.” Gandhiji went on to observe that several “well-meaning missionaries” wrote in this manner that “belittled Hinduism” in order to demonstrate a Christian superiority. Manickavasagam adds that Gandhiji had, while regretting that Bishop Heber had written the two lines, pointed out that “every man is as much a seeker after truth as you (he was referring to the missionaries) and I are.”

That Bishop Heber saw his mission in India as one of evangelism and that he was a staunch supporter of the missionaries is evident in a biographical note on the Bishop that was sent to me by Dr. D.B. James. This cover story in a Christian journal points out that Heber's predecessor, the Rt. Rev. Thomas Middleton, though acting very correctly in ecclesiastical matters, had “shut the door on evangelism and growth of the church,” in London's view. It adds, “India now needed a Missionary/Evangelist as a Bishop…and Heber filled the requirements ideally.”

Dr. Middleton, the first Bishop of Calcutta and, therefore, of India, Burma and Ceylon at the time, arrived in India at the end of November 1815. In the new year, he left Calcutta on a year-long journey to visit his diocese in South and West India. Early in 1816 he consecrated St. George's Church on the Choultry Plain in Madras (it became the Anglican Cathedral in 1835) and thought it was “much finer” than most churches in England. He then visited Tinnevelly and next moved on to spend time in Travancore where the Syrian Christians struck him as being something special and he expressed the view that efforts should not be made to draw them into the Anglican fold. Back in Calcutta, he got to work on establishing Bishop's College there to educate Indian clergy. Work started on its buildings early in 1821, but before it could be completed and the College opened, he passed away in July 1822.

Heber arrived in Calcutta in September 1823 and one of the first things he did was to ordain as an Anglican priest an Indian catechist working in Jaffna. The Rev. David Christian was not only the first Indian priest of the Anglican church but also the first coloured one in the world. But Bishop Heber was to find that all was not smooth sailing in the Church, especially in South India. Caste, he discovered, was a major problem and despite all the briefing he got on it from Rev. David Christian, he could not understand the problem at all. He sought the advice of SPCK, CMS and other missionaries who had long worked in the South. Over 60 missionaries, many of them German, submitted their views to Dr. Heber and he decided to head for Madras and from there visit the missionary centres in the deep South before proclaiming his views on caste that would be considered an ecclesiastical fiat. Before that, however, the rigours of travel in a South Indian summer proved too much for him and he passed away on April 3, 1826.


MetroplusJune 28, 2012